Agencies ‘slow to act’ on inquest guidance

This article was posted on February 13, 2015 on The StarPhoenix. Click here to read the article.

Last February, following a string of child deaths in unlicensed daycares, an Ontario regional coroner suggested to her colleagues the idea of calling out government agencies that had failed to act on recommendations from an inquest into an earlier daycare death.

The idea was shot down by Dr. Dirk Huyer, the province’s chief coroner. In an email exchange, obtained by the National Post through freedom of information, Huyer said the office used to hold news conferences one year after inquests were over, but stopped the practice because it verged on “advocacy.”

“As you know, the (office) does not have the authority to hold organizations accountable for recommendations.

This approach would potentially suggest that we do,” he wrote.

But with provincial and federal agencies now routinely coming under fire for failing to act on recommendations for preventing future deaths, should coroners and medical examiners be doing more to hold them accountable?

“Yes, I think the idea is worthy of exploration,” said Cara Zwibel, director of fundamental freedoms at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which was a party to the high-profile inquest into the death of inmate Ashley Smith.

At the very least, she said, there should be some way to make the status of recommendations from inquests and inquiries known to the public.

“It’s in the public interest to know what’s happening.”

On Thursday, the Quebec coroner released a report into a nursing home fire that killed 32 people and called for, among other things, mandatory sprinklers in all seniors’ residences.

The seniors’ advocacy organization CARP issued a statement pointing out that calls to retrofit care homes with sprinklers have come up time and again at inquests – there have been 140 deaths in nursing home fires over the past four decades – but provinces have been “slow to act.”

Meanwhile, refugee advocacy groups and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association Thursday called attention to Ottawa’s failure to create an independent oversight body for the Canada Border Services Agency.

That was a key recommendation from an inquest last fall into the death of Lucia Vega Jimenez, a Mexican woman who committed suicide while in custody at the Vancouver airport.

“Months after the jury recommended, loudly and clearly, that CBSA needs to have an oversight body, there has been no apparent action,” said Lobat Sadrehashemi of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

Saturday marks one year since the conclusion of an inquest into the death of Jeffrey Baldwin, a five-year-old boy who starved to death after being placed in the care of his grandparents.

In a statement this week, Ontario’s child advocate, Irwin Elman, expressed his dismay that many of the recommendations for improving the child-welfare system were still only “under consideration” one year later. He was also disappointed the inquest jury’s No. 1 recommendation won’t be up and running until 2020.